The Little Paris Bookshop
By Nina George (Little Brown)

I loved the idea behind this novel but found the execution cheesy. Admittedly a good sort of cheese, a runny brie or a ripe camembert rather than a processed, plastic-wrapped slice; but it won't be to everyone's taste. Jean Perdu runs a literary apothecary in a barge moored on the Seine. There, he prescribes reading to treat the emotional needs and troubles of his customers. For more than two decades he has been living with a broken heart, after being abandoned by beautiful, headstrong Manon, the only woman he has ever loved. When he discovers the truth about why she left, the bookseller unmoors his barge and sails off towards Provence -- accompanied by a pair of cats and a growing cast of eccentrics -- to face up to the mistakes and heartbreaks of his past. The tone is overwrought, the writing flowery and the plot somewhere between far-fetched and outright ridiculous. But it's not all bad. Hamburg-based novelist George does capture the romance of books, there is pleasing gentle humour, amusing characters and lots of French-ness to appeal to Francophiles.

Between You & Me: Confessions Of A Comma Queen
By Mary Norris (Text)

These are hard times for the stickler. The advent of texting and social media has meant transgressions of grammar, punctuation and spelling have reached an all-time high. Solace is to be found in this little book, part memoir and part treatise, by a long-time copy-editor at that last bastion of high standards, the New Yorker. Norris writes affectionately of her colleagues and work, and fiercely about anything to do with constructing a sentence. She cares passionately about where the hyphens are meant to go and has plenty to say about them. Some of her rules of sentence structure were new to me, I have to admit, and I even after re-reading her explanations, I'm not sure if I entirely understood all of them. This is a celebration of the skill of the copy-editor, the importance of knowing when to touch a phrase and when to leave it alone, the delights of consistent style and absolute accuracy. It is about old-fashioned values and respect for language. And, fortunately, Norris is as warm, mischievous and funny on the subject as she is pedantic.


Made In Italy
By Silvia Colloca (Penguin Random House)

One of the best things about Italian cooking is that even today it is still so regional. For this book, Silvia Colloca went on a food pilgrimage to central Italy and persuaded family and locals in the Marche, Abruzzo and Molise regions to share the secrets to the hearty dishes they make at home. Australia-based Colloca isn't a chef but she's passionate about authentic Italian cooking and her blog, Silvia's Cucina, has led to a career in food writing. The camera loves her and Made In Italy is over-full of shots of her in Nigella-like poses, but aside from this minor irritation the book is a beauty. Wonderful photography will make you long to visit the area and her recipes for regional peasant cuisine are robust, appealing and entirely non-cheffy. In winter, Italians eat soups of pasta and beans, warming stews of slow-cooked lamb and trays of baked pasta. They are frugal, never letting a crust of stale bread go to waste. Made In Italy covers all of this plus there are lots of simple but nutritious vegetable dishes, like my own favourite staple peperonata (sweet and sour capsicums). It has even inspired me to try making my own soft cheese.

Goodbye Sweetheart
By Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin)

When lawyer, husband, father and lover William Cecil dies of a heart attack while swimming, the waves of shock and grief wash over his family in the expected ways. But at the heart of Australian writer Marion Halligan's latest book is what happens when those first shock waves keep churning up less-expected reactions and discoveries. Like a crime novel, Goodbye Sweetheart begins with William's sudden death. However, the mysteries Halligan is investigating are not the facts of his death, but the impacts of his life; the ways in which we all show different sides of ourselves to different people, the impossibility of ever really knowing everything about anyone, and how to make sense of the general messiness of life. It's an evocative, moody and often sombre -- but surprisingly not morose -- observation of the coping mechanisms and filters everyone employs to deal with the world. Perhaps a little overlong, but ultimately satisfying.

Review by Kerri Jackson, an Auckland freelance journalist
Teddy Took the Train
By Nicki Greenberg (Allen & Unwin)

Losing a favourite teddy on a day out is a rite of passage for young children. Nicki Greenberg has captured it in this picture book, following the journey of a lost teddy as it travels solo around town and back home again. There are moments when the words mimic the sound of the train and on re-reading, you notice things you didn't before -- such as the mum being in a wheelchair, or a punk knitting a love-heart scarf. I was already a fan of Greenberg's energetic Christmas book The Naughtiest Reindeer. Her new work is modern and clever and will now be a firm favourite during the rest of the year.

Review by Danielle Wright creator of award-winning children's books and the news site:
Once Upon An Alphabet
By Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins)

A fabulous twist on the ABC genre. Here all the letters in the alphabet don't merely get a word each, they get a story -- a short, silly, quirky, Oliver Jeffers story. Each letter has its own page or two and the illustrations are an integral part of each tale. One of my favourites is the letter "P" which is all about a particularly daft parsnip who has a conversation with another parsnip -- his opening question is "Are we carrots?" We meet some fascinating characters along the way. Some such as the owl and the octopus who together solve problems, reappear later in the book. A lovely big, bold book -- anyone over 5 will get lots of giggles from it.


Review by Mary and Helen Wadsworth of Auckland's Pt Chev Bookshop and Resource Room

Nicky's best read

Winter is armchair travel time. For bucket-list ideas and travel tips from a Kiwi perspective check out Auckland journalist Megan Singleton's website - she even shares the secrets of flawless cabin crew makeup!